1. The hype around The Hunger Games movie has been intense. Does it live up to all the attention?
Put simply, yes. Despite having neither magic nor sparkly vampires going for it, at least one multiplex in my area managed to fill three midnight screenings. I attended a noon-time, weekday showing in a big theater with a big screen that was still surprisingly full with tweens and teens. At one point I glanced over at the faces of the people in my row. Their jaws were hanging open. I can say that all eyes in that theater were riveted to the screen for the entire two hours and 22 minutes.
2. What’s it about?
Based on the first of three books in the series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic America called Panem. The country has been divided up into 12 districts that are pitted against one another in a yearly spectacle in order to preserve the power of the Capitol. The catch is that each district must send two of its children to serve as “tributes” in the fight to the death. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, from impoverished District 12, where she helps her widowed mother and her sister fend off starvation thanks to her skill with a bow and arrow. When her younger sister is chosen as this year’s tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She is paired with a boy she’s never paid attention to before named Peeta Mellark and sent to the Capitol to meet their fate.
3. Is it a kids’ adventure story, an action film, a chick flick, or what?
While there are plenty of scenes where the young heroes are seen overcoming obstacles, there’s simply too much slaughter in The Hunger Games to call it an adventure story for kids. And I heard one complaint afterwards that the fight scenes were not up to snuff. The fact is, this is not a typical action movie where the two sides are set up to spend the rest of the movie battling it out. And yes, there is a love triangle — will Katniss start to fall for Peeta, or stay true to her hunting partner and friend Gale Hawthorne? But if I had to shoehorn it into a genre, I’d probably call it a thriller — there’s a lot of plot, and it drives all the violence.
4. How’s the acting?
As it happens I had recently watched Winter’s Bone, in which Jennifer Lawrence is an Appalachian teen who has to fight the adults in charge to take care of her family, so I already knew she’d make a fantastic Katniss. And then I watched a teen-aged Josh Hutcherson in The Kids are All Right, and realized he’d grown up a bit since his days in Zathura. So I went in expecting some great performances, and I was not disappointed. Throw in the always-magnificent Stanley Tucci as the host of the Hunger Games TV show, Donald Sutherland as a sinister President Snow, and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, the costume designer on the District 12 support team who helps Katniss with more than her wardrobe, and you’ve got an excellent supporting cast. I’d heard doubts over Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the only living champion from District 12 and a drunken mess who must serve as the team’s mentor. Have no fear — Harrelson pulls it off and then some.
5. What about the filmmaking and special effects?
Hunger Games Director Gary Ross makes heavy use of hand-held cameras and swish pans. It’s true, it’s hard to tell what’s happening in the fight scenes — but to my mind, that just makes it clear what the experience is like from Katniss’ point of view. The artificial forest in which the contestants fight is lush and green, and the luxuries of the Capitol are appropriately glimmery. On the big screen (it’s playing at IMAX theaters for at least a week, though I saw it in a Regal RPX format) you even notice the thick layers of makeup worn by the Capitol’s denizens, making them look like doomed characters from Marie Antoinette’s time. I also liked the special effects, especially the costumes Cinna designs for the pre-game parade, which turns the usual coal-mining-inspired get-up for District 12 tributes on its ear.
6. With all those kids killing kids, how PG-13 is it?
Without knowing your kid(s), I’d say 12 or 13 is probably as young as you’d want to go for The Hunger Games. Even though most of the bodies shown have their heads turned tastefully away from the camera, and there is some slight comic relief, particularly from Tucci and Harrelson, it’s still upsetting to see the glee with which the better-trained contestants from the wealthier districts calmy wipe out their opponents.
7. How faithful is it to the book?
In my opinion, the film of The Hunger Games does more to capture the spirit and power of the book than any other adaptation I can think of. That’s saying something, because there were many, many ways in which this film could have gone very, very wrong. It probably helped that Collins worked on the screenplay. There are some scary creatures at the end that are WAY toned down from the book — we’re talking nightmare-making stuff, so perhaps understandably. Other than that, about the only thing that jumped out at me was the design of the Cornucopia, the place where the gamemakers supply the contestants. To me it looked more like a crashed airplane than the metallic ram’s horn suggested by the name.
8. I’ve never read the books — will I be able to follow it?
I went with my 16-year-old, who declined to read the book when I was done with it. Although he missed a couple points that are spelled out more clearly in the book, I actually liked the more subtle way some of the themes were handled in the movie. You probably won’t be able to keep the names of all the Hunger Game combatants straight, but that’s a problem with the book as well.
9. Best time for a bathroom break?
If you must go, dash quickly about an hour and 45 minutes into the film, when Katniss comes up with a plan that involves building fires around a field.
10. Was the ending satisfying on its own, or just a set-up for the sequel(s)?
At the end, my son had a million questions about how the story could continue past the ending. To me, that’s a sign that The Hunger Games can stand on its own — and that there’ll definitely be an audience for the sequels to come!